Vitamin D may save 40,000 Canadian lives per year

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Inadequate levels of vitamin D may be causing about 37,000 premature deaths in Canada and costing the country billions of dollars, according to a new review.

Writing in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research,​ researchers led by William Grant from the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC) in San Francisco report that the economic burden was also decrease if vitamin D levels were improved, and would save about $14.4 billion.

“The results of this study strongly suggest that the personal and economic burden of disease in Canada could be significantly reduced if the mean serum 25(OH)D level was increased from its current level of 67 nmol/L to the optimal level of 105nmol/L,”​ wrote the researchers.

“These results should increase interest by individuals, researchers, organizations, and agencies in Canada in assessing the health benefits of higher vitamin D production and intake and modifying practices and recommendations accordingly,”​ they added.

The study was funded by the Vitamin D Society (Canada), the UV Foundation (US), the Sunlight Research Forum (The Netherlands), Bio-Tech-Pharmacal (US), Dairy Farmers, Yoplait, and IADSA.

The lowdown on D

Vitamin D deficiency in adults is reported to precipitate or exacerbate osteopenia, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. There is also some evidence that the vitamin may reduce the incidence of several types of cancer and type-1 diabetes.

The science supporting the muscle function of vitamin D, as well as the vitamin’s role in immune health, is sufficiently robust to have merited a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA).

Despite such proclamations of support, many people across the world are not getting enough vitamin D. Data obtained from Statistics Canada allowed Grant and his co-workers to estimate that improved vitamin D levels would reduce the incidence of chronic disease and could reduce mortality by 16 percent, or 37,000 fewer deaths.

This would alleviate the economic burden by about 7 percent, according to data from Health Canada, or $14.4 billion “less the cost of the program”​, they said.

The times they may be a-changing

The influential Institute of Medicine (IOM) is conducting a review of the available vitamin D science and is due to deliver its findings this summer. Many expect the IOM to recommend RDIs much above the current levels of 400IU. Oprah has been telling her viewers the RDI should be 2000IU or more.

The IOM may also revise upper safe levels (USLs) with some saying 10,000IU per day reflects the scientific literature – this would be a great boon to supplement manufacturers seeking to meet demand for high-dose products.

Source: Molecular Nutrition & Food Research
​Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200900420
“An estimate of the economic burden and premature deaths due to vitamin D deficiency in Canada”
Authors: W.B. Grant, G.K. Schwalfenberg, S.J. Genuis, S.J. Whiting

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